Hints and tips on dealing with the stress of Autism and Aspergers
As a parent (indeed as anyone!) it really pays to learn as much as you can about Autism and Aspergers, and related conditions and in so doing you will learn more about your individual child's unique set of needs.
Take a course in counselling to enhance your communication skills – this could help you not only with your child or loved one, learn more about yourself and how you communicate, but also with communication with the services that you need to help you.
Raise into your awareness what the things are that cause challenging behaviours and investigate them to see if you can unpick the cause – could it be sensory based? A sound, a light, clothing, a washing powder, a smell, an emotion that needs interpreting, feeling unwell, constipation, an infection, low blood-sugar, tiredness, thirst, IBS, food intolerance, time of day, place, patterns of behaviour, weather, deadlines for work / homework, school / work anxiety and so on and on – make a list and keep it going.
If you have Autism yourself, then a counselling course could also be a very interesting and potentially rewarding journey in communication and empathy skills to add to your tool-kit.
And here's a comprehensive list of tips which should give you some additional ideas for managing the stress of autism.
- Get enough rest
- Listen to the person who has Autism. Slow right down and really listen.
- Stay calm – don't take things personally – even when you are being ranted at the entire trip to school in the car – stay above it and remember this is not about you it is an expression of anxiety
- Practice deep breathing exercises daily
- Get as much exercise as you can comfortably incorporate in your daily and weekly life.
- Trampolines – with all safety considerations very carefully considered and risk assessed – could be most helpful with exercise, helping with co-ordination and also with the socialisation of inviting a friend over to play. We were fortunate enough to gain a grant for a top of the line trampoline and designed our garden around it and had it placed in full view of the kitchen window. It can take 3 adults at a time and has been an absolute godsend to our family. The Rules are that no-one is allowed on it unless there is an adult present. There are also indoor Re-bounders that fit under a settee or bed when not in use.
- Find and join a support group and find people to talk to and share tips with - if there isn't one locally consider creating one yourself...
- Focus on what is really important and keep it there; when you have the time, the energy and health then explore the distractions along the way if you wish.
- Make sure you eat a well balanced and nutritious diet and drink plenty of water – 2-3 litres of water, depending on your size, each day for optimum health.
- Think about easily digestible foods for a digestive system that is suppressed by the chronic stress cycle
- Try eliminating all Gluten (Wheat, Oats, Barley, Rye, Spelt and all their derivatives) and Casein (all animal milk products) from your diet and home for 4 weeks and notice any changes in behaviour.
- This sounds daunting but is not nearly so difficult as it sounds. You can convert most recipes to GF using GF flour and add extra GF baking powder to help it rise. My top tip is when baking GF cakes to add some fruit – either liquidised or not - or fruit juice as part of your liquid as it helps what is normally a bit dry to become a little more moist.
- Check labels for Gluten additives and find an alternative – see my Gluten page.
- Removing Casein use dairy free or soy products to begin with and then you can expand.
- Casein takes about a month to clear the system, Gluten takes about 3 months.
- Have eyes checked for colour sensitivity to learn if any particular shade is likely to help with the processing of colour – contact the Dyslexia society for people who can do this test locally.
- Have a routine daily and weekly – use timetables, cork and whiteboards, and use timers and stopwatches to keep track of the passage of time – which slips away so easily when we are involved with 'special interests'.
- Give plenty of advanced notice of any changes to the routine, predictability or plans. This can also involve advanced warning of any expected visitors to the home, social or clinical. One young lady couldn't bear ANYone coming to the house at all – which certainly made an impact on her entire family's social life. She felt the house was her last sanctuary in the world and the only place she felt completely safe – and therefore less stressed - and couldn't bear for anyone – not friends or workmen – to enter or she felt her sanctuary would be shattered.
- Avoid loud places and large and confusing groups.
- Try water therapy – warm baths with sea salt and an aromatherapy oil of choice
- Sand box therapy – which in winter and or wet months you can make in indoor box and use rice in it.
- Pet therapy – if you can have some pets – obviously you need to consider allergies and the logistics of caring for a pet – and if the logistics and budget won't stretch to a cat or dog you might consider a hamster. Pets are very comforting and soothing and non-judgemental and can also teach responsibility (of care) and self esteem – when nothing else seems to be going right with the world your pet will still accept and adore you. Also pets have less confusing and complex facial expressions than humans.
- Remember that everything you say will be taken literally so when you say 'No you can't have that chocolate bar' that is ridiculous to the person with Autism who has a chocolate bar in their hand, because they already have it so therefore they 'can'.
- 'No you may not have that chocolate bar ' is more appropriate. Or ' You may have that chocolate bar when you have …....'
- Play to strengths and build on them. Find positive behaviour and interests and build on them, bring it into social stories to help understanding of what behaviour is wanted and looked for.
- During a sensory meltdown try to capture just one sense – it could be with a smell (aromatherapy) or a noise (– tinkling a bell or keys), or a light reflecting on a piece of laminate, or a piece of metallic shiny cloth, or – whatever works in your family. In my experience if you can just capture the attention of one sense then the others will calm down. Sensory overload is just that – all the senses going mad and becoming totally overwhelming, trapping the Autistic child or adult in their grip.
- Monitor anxiety and try to relieve it whenever possible.
- 'Jammy Days' can be very helpful, when one doesn't have to get dressed but can slouch around all day – homework can still be done if needed, but there is no requirement to go outside and deal with the pressures of the world and people outside the home. Scheduled 'Jammy Days' can be very helpful as something to look forward to.
- A Happy Book of photos taken doing enjoyable things and happy occasions – for when its been a difficult and or overwhelming day and everything seems to be going wrong these are proof positive that happy times have been had and can be had again.
- Use 'The Rules are' rather than 'because I said so' – the later is leaving you open to lengthy debate, whereas most people with Autism want to follow The Rules once they can figure out what they are. This is most helpful to remember when out in a restaurant or hotel
- Instead of getting into and argument or heated debate try distraction techniques. Many a day I would skip and dance down the road singing a tune, and eventually my young son couldn't stop himself, he had to join in and was distracted from what he was upset about...
- Be consistent, firm and kind – and choose your battles – and their location. I would say No to my son but I would ensure that it was done in a private, non-public place to save both of us the embarrassment of the ensuing meltdown and temper-tantrum. This was practice – he doesn't have temper-tantrums when told 'No' now, he might whine and wheedle a bit, but he knows what No means.
- Use the 'When....then' technique when confronted by difficult behaviour - ' When you stop / start ….... then I will........'
- My children could never understand why, in their experience, I was always shouting at them – they had completely missed the 'request phase' and then the 'ordering phase', and even often the 'sanction phase'.... 'Please do.......' 'I have asked you nicely to do...... now I am ordering you to do.......' ' If you don't do......... right now then.......... will happen'. My son still fails to comprehend why I say please when, he feels, I am ordering him to do something that he will be required to do. He also completely fails to understand why I thank him for doing something I have asked him to do because he feels that he had no choice in whether or not he was required to do it...
- Let them have the last word in an argument. My son and my Mother have both taught me the importance of letting them have the last word – simplistically, it makes them feel safe and that their ego is intact, and the argument will continue for as long as you keep trying to have the last word. Say what you need to say and then let them have the last word.